Most people spend hours a week exercising their bodies, but how many spend even a fraction of that time exercising their brain? And I’m not just talking about learning something new, playing sudoku or spending a few minutes fiddling with those online brain games. I’m talking about bringing your brain into a state of deep coherence and harmony by shifting your brainwave patterns through very specific forms of meditation and breathwork. While meditation might seem to be passive and not exercises at all, for you brain, it’s a totally different story.
Countless studies have shown that during meditation, your brain is actually highly active, just in different ways than most people are used to. Meditation and breathwork actually enhances the communication within your brain, especially between the two dominant hemispheres, which has a profoundly relaxing effect on the body and mind [1,2,3]. Meditation also builds new neural connections and actually increases the size of your brain, studies have shown [4,5,6,7]. In that sense, it is actually doing much more than simply exercising your brain—it is rejuvenating it as well.
The meditation described below has been proven to have all of the beneficial effects outlined above and more. It will help drop you into a state of deep peace, relaxation, emotional harmony, expanded creativity and intuition and best of all, a deep connection with yourself. Practiced regularly over time, these effects can and often do become permanent.
Deep Breathing Meditation
1. Find a comfortable seated position where your spine is as straight as possible while still being relaxed and free of tension. Feel free to use props, pillows, chairs, the floor, etc. if necessary. Do what works best for your level of flexibility and body type. Your hands should also be placed comfortably in your lap or whatever other position you prefer and can be held for the length of the meditation.
2. After you’ve found a comfortable seated position, close your eyes and begin by taking three or four deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth to relax your body and mind even further. You will then begin using the Ujjayi breath, which is an ancient Daoist and Yogic form of breathing. The instructions for performing the Ujjayi breath correctly are as follows:
- Start off by taking an inhalation that is slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting and lightly tightening your throat muscles. When you are doing it correctly, you should sound like Darth Vader from Star Wars. Some also liken the sound of this type of breathing to the sound of the ocean or what you hear when you put your ear up to a shell.
- Another way to get the hang of this practice is to try exhaling the sound “haaaah” with your mouth held open. Now make a similar sound with your mouth closed, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages. Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same method for the inflow breath, gently constricting your throat as you inhale.
To experience the maximum positive effect on your brain, you’ll want to continue to use the Ujjayi breath throughout the entire length of your meditation. The Ujjayi breath allows you to slow down and lengthen your breath significantly versus normal breathing methods, which facilitates deep relaxation in the body and brain.
3. Keep your awareness focused on your breath throughout the meditation. With each breath, inhale a little bit more air and slightly more deeply, without straining. With every out breath, exhale a little bit more slowly and deeply, again, without straining. This should be almost effortless and the process will begin to unfold naturally as you relax and your body senses the rhythm.
4. Keep this breathing pattern going indefinitely. You may hit an edge where your breath can no longer be extended. That’s perfect and just stay breathing at this length. You may find that one single breath may end up lasting a minute or more. As you continue to breath deeply you will find an exquisite and extraordinarily pleasurable peace wash over your mind and body as you move into various brainwave states. You can literally feel your brain moving into a state of deep coherence, harmony and relaxation. It is quite uncommon to become very inspired and have intuitive insights flash into your awareness. As such, you may want to keep a pen and paper by you to jot down notes. You will also find your mood elevated and many experience waves of pleasure and bliss. All these phenomenon and anything else you experience can be traced back to your brain waves moving into deep gamma, alpha, delta and theta wave states.
Enjoy the aftereffects for hours, and often times, even days if you are able to stay in the meditation for close to 10 minutes or more. Repeat daily for maximum impact and lasting effects on brain function and brainwave patterns. Studies have found measurable alterations in brain size and epigenetic markers of stress reduction in as little as a few weeks.
- Liou, Chien-Hui, Hsieh, Chang-Wei, Hsieh, Chao-Hsien, Lee, Si-Chen, Chen, Jyh-Horng, and Wang, Chi-Hong. Correlation between Pineal Activation and Religious Meditation Observed by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Available from Nature Precedings
- Lutz A, Greischar LL, Rawlings NB, Ricard M, Davidson RJ, Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:16369–16373 (2004)
- Udo Will, Eric Berg, Brain wave synchronization and entrainment to periodic acoustic stimuli, Neuroscience Letters, Volume 424, Issue 1, 31 August 2007, Pages 55-60, ISSN 0304-3940, 10.1016/j.neulet.2007.07.036.